Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 10 of Westworld Season 2. Haven’t seen it yet? Read our spoiler-free review of the season’s opening episodes, or click here to find out how to watch it online.
“This isn’t a dream, Dolores, it’s a fucking nightmare!” That’s Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) delivering the line of the season in Westworld’s second run finale, which sets the tone for the whole episode – specifically, the kind of episode where someone can exclaim “This isn’t a dream, it’s a fucking nightmare!” with a straight face.
Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s second season has expanded exponentially on the plot points and promises of their maiden outing, and so it’s only fitting that Westworld Season 2’s finale should be a bigger, messier affair. This is a thrilling, action-packed 90-minute climax that ties together all the strands that have gone before without pausing for breath, or even to consider whether anyone can keep up.
There is, however, a strong commitment to the central theme of what separates human from host, real from artificial – a throughline that goes right back to the opening conversation of the season, in which Dolores declared that what is real is irreplaceable. It’s something that she clings to more than ever, as she finally reaches her end goal: The Forge, gateway to The Valley Beyond. The only catch? It’s the same end goal of everyone else, as all of the series’ characters descend upon the same location for an epic showdown.
The Forge, as we’ve pretty much already gathered, is a gigantic digital storage unit, a place where 4 million souls have been saved – every single guest that has even gone to Westworld, since William took over and kicked into gear Delos’ sinister cloning plans. The database, then, began with Jim Delos, and Bernard and Dolores log in to the virtual world to see his many extreme versions carrying out violent deeds (it’s a treat to see Peter Mullan once more having a whale o a time being totally despicable). And so it follows that the figure turned into its keeper takes the form of Logan (Ben Barnes, making the reappearance much longed for by fans). It’s only after years of him overseeing this hub of digital identities that he cracks the great obstacle defeating Delos’ attempts at recreating humans in the flesh: humans are too simple, and Logan’s software was trying to make them too complicated. He reduces them down to only 1,000 lines of code (symbolically stored in books in a library – a motif that, judging by Interstellar, the Nolans really have a thing for), and the one simple core drive: survival.
It’s a compelling proposition by the show, which inverts the starting point of the whole park: humans, in the eyes of the hosts, are the ones with a basic algorithm, only able to live by that code. Hosts, on the other hand, if they have the woke coding privileges built in, can change their minds, and their programming: a true display of free will. It’s fitting, then, that this finale should be anchored around both Bernard and Dolores, the two opposable forces that have emerged across these 10 episodes, changing their positions on the fundamental questions of identity, existence and survival.
We kick off with Dolores stumbling across The Man in Black (Ed Harris), mocking him for his paranoid moment of doubting the nature of his human reality. They then come across Bernard, resulting in a compelling lead trio heading for The Forge. The Man in Black, inevitably, turns on Dolores, after she gives him a gun in a peace offering – and, inevitably, she predicts that he will act according to his amoral code, and leaves a booby trap in the gun’s barrel that leaves it backfiring on him. With him out of action, Dolores and Bernard proceed to The Forge, where they enter the digital realm and meet Logan.
The idea of a gateway to The Valley Beyond, meanwhile, turns out to be something surprisingly literal: a chasm that opens up in the middle of the Western landscape, a tear through the sky and land that gives us a tantalising glimpse of a verdant, lush meadow just out of reach. It’s the promised land that Akecheta’s people have dreamed for, the sanctuary Maeve has been seeking for her child, the answer to the puzzle that has taunted Bernard’s boggled brain.
The problem is that it’s not the new world that Dolores is gunning for – it’s a digital paradise where the hosts can roam free, but not in physical form. Dolores, on the other hand, wants something real, irreplaceable: the human world. Why send the hosts to a paradise, if it isn’t real? Surely, she reasons, it’s just a gilded cage? Another lie from their human controllers? Bernard, on the other hand, has had enough of her killing everyone – he’s only too aware that Dolores’ rampage has resulted in almost all the hosts dying, except for her, Bernard and a handful of others. Her quest is looking more laughably self-defeating with every new skirmish.
It’s this central conflict that emerges as Westworld’s most compelling narrative thread – not the line between Maeve or Dolores, or the animosity between Dolores and The Man in Black. It’s tied into the work of William and Ford, but finds itself more elegantly summed up in these two complex, distinct characters.
Bernard makes the first move, shooting Dolores dead, using Peter Abernathy’s encryption key to send the data on the guests to Delos, and flooding The Forge, presumably to protect it.
The result opens up The Door, and Maeve and her hordes ride hard to get there. She escapes Delos HQ in a stampede of bulls – yes, she can even reprogram host animals – that highlights just how stylish and confident HBO’s series has become. Thandie Newton strides through the chaotic corridors with a sassy confidence and intimidating smirk, joined by Hector and Armistice (remember them?) who break out her out. It’s then they find The Door on the horizon with the Ghost Nation, marching with determination, all sweeping helicopter shots and rousing music.
Then, along comes Delos, with Charlotte Hale’s troops led by their secret weapon: Clementine, reprogrammed with a twisted version of Maeve’s code to brainwash every host she meets into killing each other. Ramin Djawadi’s soundtrack outdoes even itself here, with a horrifying, clashing chord accompanying the arrival of this angel of death, and the ensuing outbreak of homicide is horribly alarming to witness. Even when she’s taken out by Armistice, Annabelle’s code uses the psychic network between the hosts to spread further through the crowd: there seems to be no end to the carnage.
The Door, then, is the answer – and yet even then, it’s only a half-truth, one that leaves the sight of Maeve’s daughter and Akecheta’s people running free, but their bodies plummeting to to the canyon floor below. With the flood caused by Bernard on the way, we finally see the massacre that led to the hundreds of host bodies being washed up in the Season 2 opener.
And so it is that we say goodbye to Maeve, an honourable host with a heart o gold, whose mission does succeed, to some degree – even as she’s shot by Delos’ armed forces. Newton has been one of the best things about this show, raising questions of consciousness, power and rebellion, not to mention some of the best one-liners (delivered with the arched raise of an eyebrow). Her presence elevated the role of Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) from comic relief to poignant hero, as we also say goodbye to the show’s surprise MVP. Transforming from annoying arse to humble host sympathiser, he goes out buying time for Maeve and her crew to get past a Delos convoy – and, in a one last bit of witty, meta-writing, he delivers his last stand while reciting a speech he once penned for the hosts.
With all those gaps filled in, the show finally takes us to the present day. As Delos’ forces scoop up all those corpses from the water to see whether anything can be resurrected, Charlotte Hale is busy with Bernard. Now in her custody, she’s looking for the Abernathy key to allow Delos to decode the data on the guests.
And it’s here that Westworld delivers the finale’s big twist: Bernard, after seeing the slaughter of everyone, including the death of Elsie (who isn’t morally flexible enough to fit in with Hale’s vision of a new world – remind you of anyone?), changes his mind and decides that Dolores is right. And so when he opened up The Door, he transmitted the data about the hosts, not about the guests. And he did another, more surprising thing: he created a robot clone of Hale. That’s what the blank gaps in his memory were, and what this season’s time jump has been concealing: that Bernard assembled an identical version of Hale from scratch, then scrambled his memory to stop any humans hacking into him realising what he’s done.
Inside Hale? Dolores’ code, creating a Dolores-Hale hybrid that we’ll call Halores. And so Halores found Hale in cold storage and killed her. It’s a huge step from Bernard, which also gives a cool, creepy send-off to one more character: Charlotte Hale, star Delos employee played with attitude and ruthlessness by Tessa Thompson. (We also bid a sadder farewell to Elsie, one of the few likeable humans left in the show.)
Halores, though, is still very much live and kicking, even managing to sneak into the group of human guests – yes, some of them actually made it – queuing up for dinghies taking them out of the park. Stubbs delivers a speech to her about being hired by Ford to be loyal to the hosts, which is why he clocks her as a robot, but lets her pass without detection – a retcon that, frankly, we’re not buying. But in the plus side, it means the show opens up a huge door to another new plot strand, as the real world receives its first robot host, with Dolores finally making it out beyond the walls of the park.
Her first task? Bring back Bernard – and it’s here that Season 2 convincingly lays down its foundation for a third run.
Dolores, we discover, was the one who was asked to built Bernard to begin with – after all, she was the one who spent the most time with Arnold, after he had spent hours testing her for fidelity. When Ford’s attempts at recreating Arnold failed (and just ended in suicidal clones), Dolores ended up creating Bernard, a tweaked version of Arnold with the same traits but different enough to avoid the original man’s fate. It’s a decision that paid off in dividends, with Jeffrey Wright’s performance becoming wonderfully layered. A flashback to him and Ford chatting on the beach gives Anthony Hopkins one last chance to spar verbally with his co-star, and we realise that since Bernard erased Ford’s code from his head, he’s only being hallucinating his old friend – that second internal voice that denotes consciousness, which Arnold was so keen to instil in Dolores? Bernard just levelled up to full woke status too.
It’s a joy, then, to see Dolores bring him back once more. Why? Because Dolores realises she needs him. Not as a friend in the real world, but as an enemy: these two hosts, at such extreme ends of the philosophical spectrum, are necessary to forward the hosts’ agenda. And so we come to the second big twist of the finale: Dolores changed her mind as well, realising that Bernard’s point-of-view was correct. And so she didn’t destroy The Valley Beyond after all, but tucked it away somewhere on a computer where nobody would find it. She even uploaded Teddy’s consciousness sphere into The Valley, so he could live and find peace in a world that the hosts could control and shape without human interference.
It’s that realisation that sets the stage for Season 3, as Dolores matures and grows beyond the monster she became for much of this run, acknowledging that there’s more than one path to freedom, that it’s not just about who she deems is worthy, and that sometimes, a calmer perspective is needed to keep her unstoppable conviction in check. And what of The Valley Beyond? Presumably, we will never see it again – without any of the backups available now, there’s no way to restore and loop hosts’ identities anymore. You only live as long as the person who remembers you is the sentiment the finale leaves us with – although with a clutch of brain spheres in Dolores’ pocket, perhaps there are a number of friends that she can remember in great detail…
One post-credits sequence teases the idea of The Man in Black returning too, but with Emily (not Dolores) testing him for fidelity – confirming him as a host – we suspect that this is actually based in another future timeline, several years from now, where perhaps Delos has picked up and is continuing its work. After all, while we didn’t see The Man in Black die, his arm-gouging experiment last episode didn’t reveal any wires at that point – and although we were fans of the theory that he would turn out to be a host, the idea that he’s destined to become one involuntarily is far more interesting, especially when we’ve seen the bleak results that awaited for Jim Delos’ robotic clones.
The result is an intriguing cliffhanger for the series, which points in a refreshingly non-Westworld direction: there’s no way that Season 3 cannot take place primarily in the real world, and with Halores walking around as well as Dolores and Bernard, the question of how their attempt to conquer humanity will unfold on our soil is one rife with potential. And, of course, with Westworld apparently shut down, that only raises the question: what about all the other worlds?
Westworld Season 2 airs in the UK at 2am on Mondays on Sky Atlantic, and is available on-demand after that simulcast. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream Westworld legally on NOW TV, which gives live and on-demand streaming access to Sky’s main TV channels, including FOX UK (Legion) and Sky Atlantic (Billions), for £7.99 a month – with no contract and a 14-day free trial.